By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The first Republican to serve as Oklahoma Speaker of the House, Todd Hiett, now wants to replace Patrice Douglas on the state Corporation Commission. Also seeking the elective post on the vital regulatory body (consisting of three members) is state Sen. Cliff Branan R-Oklahoma City.
In a telephone interview with CapitolBeatOK, Hiett identified key issues that he is raising on the campaign trail. He wants “to protect the state from federal intrusion and regulatory policy,” and “maintain low utility rates, with both scrutiny of business practices in the production of electricity and fairness to all the parties in rate cases.”
Hiett said he will work, if elected, for “Fair and balanced regulatory climate and structure for oil and gas in the state, to be protective of the legitimate interests of all the parties. It is important for Oklahoma to keep the regulatory environment adequate, among other reason to keep the regulation and scrutiny sufficient that we do not have the federal government stepping in.”
Hiett and Branan are both pro-business conservatives, but the former House leader from Kellyville made the case for his election with these words:
“I have a broader perspective and longer experience with policy issues. I was exposed to the oil and gas business in Creek County. I have the experience of having been a pumper and thereby getting a natural exposure to the industry. As a rancher and landowner I have a broader perspective than my opponent.
“My experience and record as Speaker of the House demonstrates my ability to lead on significant issues. We are at a time in Oklahoma where because of the feds stepping in and pushing down on states’ rights, we must be increasingly vigilant to the state’s role in environmental and regulatory matters.
“I am prepared to push back against the aggressiveness of the feds wanting to take away the good record of OK in monitoring the energy business and other aspects of the economy.”
In recent days, Hiett has rebutted negative ads from the pro-Branan camp, saying the Nichols Hills Republican has too cordial a relationship with the Sierra Club.
Hiett received the support of Commission of Labor Mark Costello, who said, “”There is a stark contrast in this race between a proven conservative, and someone whom I like, but just cannot be relied upon to fight against the EPA, Sierra Club and Barack Obama to protect Oklahomans from sky-high utility rates.”
In his email exchange with this reporter, Branan said, “Stopping federal overreach is the top issue in the race for the Corporation Commission. Every day Oklahoma and the rest of America is being pushed further and further under federal control. We have seen it with EPA regulations which are going to cost Oklahoma ratepayers untold amounts in increased electricity costs, and we must fight back.
“One piece of potential regulation reaches to the second most important issue: energy independence. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been a key not only to Oklahoma’s economic renaissance, but also to America becoming less dependent on foreign oil. Liberals, like those in the Obama administration, would like nothing better than to stop this production (just look at their inaction on the Keystone Pipeline).
“It is vital that Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission vigilantly maintain the ability to regulate our own oil and natural gas industry and never cede anything to the federal government.
“Finally, with the Corporation Commission touching 65% of our state’s economic activity, it is vital we create a streamlined regulatory environment which encourages investment and job development in our state.”
Making the case for himself versus former Speaker Hiett, Sen. Branan commented, “I have experience in the oil and natural gas industry and have demonstrated my willingness to stand-up against special interests. I have one of the most pro-economic development voting records in history according to the Research Institute for Economic Development. My strong record for states’ rights is perhaps best illustrated by being a member of the 100 percent club by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.”
Branan defended his record, saying a high rating from the Sierra Club was an anomoly.
Branan took at shot at Hiett because he “grew government” during his time as speaker. He also criticized Hiett for serving as a director at a ban that took federal money.
Because no Democrat filed for the seat, the Republican primary on June 24 will decide who takes the commission post.
NOTE: Portions of this article first appeared in the June 19 print edition of The City Sentinel.